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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Council of Europe Frets About Belarus

ReutersYushchenko gesturing as he speaks with Lavrov at the start of the Council of Europe summit in Warsaw on Monday.
WARSAW -- European leaders hailed the progress of democracy on the continent's eastern edge as its top human rights body met Monday, but they held up Belarus and Moldova's breakaway Transdniester province as evidence that more needs to be done.

Opening a two-day summit of the 46-nation Council of Europe, Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski insisted that "no one should be belittled, abandoned or forgotten."

Presidents Viktor Yushchenko of Ukraine and Mikhail Saakashvili of Georgia, Western-leaning leaders who came to power following protests in their former Soviet republics, heard Kwasniewski argue that western Europe must support "all of those who want to live in accordance with European standards and democratic values in whatever region of our continent."

"With the Orange Revolution in Ukraine and the Rose Revolution in Georgia in mind, we can rejoice in the continuous spread of European values," said Estonian President Arnold Ruutel.

Still, there was one notable absence -- Poland's neighbor, Belarus, the only nation on the continent that does not adhere to the European Convention of Human Rights and is not a member of the council. "We all feel a particular sense of empathy with the Belarussian people, who deserve far better than the authoritarian rule that they are now experiencing under the last dictator in Europe," said Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga.

French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier urged Belarus "to make the indispensable, demanding, concrete and necessary efforts to join the 46 states in this council."

Saakashvili, however, suggested that the onus was on Europe itself. "The world can do much, much more and Europe can do much, much more ... to aid the Belarusian people in their quest for freedom," he said.

Saakashvili, whose government is trying to pressure Moscow to speed up the withdrawal of Russian military bases, stressed his desire for a "constructive relationship with Russia." But he also underlined Georgia's new closeness to the United States and declared that "we must expand the reach of liberty in the Black Sea region."

In addition to Belarus, still an ally of Russia, he highlighted concern over breakaway Transdniester, a mostly Russian-speaking territory in eastern Moldova, where Russia retains troops.

President Traian Basescu of neighboring Romania described Transdniester as one of "a number of 'gray zones' that are threatening the security and stability of the European continent" -- a problem, he argued, best tackled by promoting respect for human rights and democracy.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov did not address events elsewhere in the former Soviet Union in his address to the conference. However, he dismissed concerns over the strength of democracy in Russia itself. "Russia was, is and will be the largest European nation," he said. "Today, no one can have any doubts about Russia's attachment to democracy and European values."